It seems like every home improvement show on television features subway tile in the kitchen. If you’ve dreamed of a subway tile backsplash, but you’re more of a do-it-yourselfer, installing subway tile isn’t as tricky as you might think. All it takes is the ability to measure and a bit of patience, and you’ll have the kitchen of your dreams for a fraction of the cost of hiring out the work.
Although it’s tempting to go with a fancy design that looks straight out of a home-and-garden magazine, those intricate designs complicate things even for a seasoned contractor. Assuming you’re more of a beginner, it’s best to stick with a simple plan and choose tiles all in a single size and a standard shape, such as three-inch by six-inch rectangles.
Pay attention to whether the tiles come with built-in spacer lugs or if you’ll need to purchase them. It’s probably easiest for a beginner to choose tiles with built-in lugs, but any hardware store can show you how to use them for spacing.
Separate the areas to tile into sections. So, if you have two walls that will host backsplashes, you’ll have two center points. The reason for finding a center point is so you start tiling in the center and work out to the edges, meaning the end of each tiled wall will match. So, if you must cut a tile in half on one end, you’ll also have a half-tile on the other end. That creates symmetry.
Keep in mind that center point is not where you will place your first tile, but where the center of the tiled area is.
Before you begin tiling, place the tiles on your countertop and make sure the pattern you want looks the way you think it will. You can also lean a row of tiles against the wall to see how the tiles look against your countertops. Now is the time to make any changes to your tiles, as you can still exchange them and haven’t put in any labor.
If all this confuses you already, consider purchasing mosaics, or sheets of pre-laid tiles, as they are easier to work with. The concept is the same, and you can still buy small subway tiles in sheet mosaics, but they tend to have a slightly different look.
Add tile mastic in a thin layer to your wall with a trowel. While it doesn’t have to be perfectly smooth, you don’t want big globs of mastic, as it may create an uneven look from a distance. Take a lot of time and care placing your first tile, as this will serve as the base for the entire job. Place the center of the first tile against the base of your countertop, but make sure it aligns perfectly with the center point you marked earlier. So, if you draw a line down from that center point and end with an arrow, that arrow should point directly at the middle of your first tile.
Complete the first row, cutting the end pieces to the measurement you need. Ideally, they will both need the same cut. You’ll need a wet saw to cut through the tile. These are available for rent if you don’t own one.
Not every wall is perfectly square, so as you move up row by row, you may find your measurements vary a bit. Take the time to measure for the last tile on the outside edges as you work your way up. Not doing so may mean ugly grout lines on the outside edges that will make the entire project look amateurish. Once you have completed the tiling, allow it to set overnight.
Adding grout to your tiles is an art form. Mix it according to the package instructions and then apply the grout over the tiles. Hold a rubber float at a 45-degree angle and press the grout into the gaps between tiles. Make sure to fill all gaps fully.
Let the grout set up for an hour or so, and then wipe the surface of your tiles with a wet sponge. Give tiles a final shine by rubbing a clean, dry cloth over the surface to buff away any residue. Complete finishing details, such as replacing electrical covers.
Creating a beautiful backsplash and saving money while doing it is possible. If you still feel a bit uncertain about your measuring and tiling abilities, see if your local hardware store offers a class in tiling. Once you’ve completed the tiling job, enjoy your beautiful and trendy subway tiles for years to come.